Today in Facts About Black People

The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg argues that there is a “black upper class bubble” that explains the focus on white racism as a source of ills in the black community:

It seems plausible that at least some of these people are as removed from lower class black America as many white commentators are from lower class white America. In that context, I could see how the Trayvon Martin story would hit closer to home than the vastly more numerous tragedies involving black-on-black homicide. […]

I also think it’s a lot easier for rich black liberals to have an “honest conversation” about white racism than it is for them to engage in an honest conversation about the other problems facing black America that have little to nothing to do with white racism.

The funny thing about this argument is that it reveals the extent to which Goldberg himself isn’t very familiar with the lives of African Americans. Here’s the deal: one result of Jim Crow and its economic disenfranchisement is that the black middle class is a relatively recent event in American history. The same is true of the black elite class, which is—and has always been—quite small.

The byproduct of this is that the temporal distance from working-class life to prosperity is fairly short for many black Americans. So short, in fact, that black elites were often the first in their families to obtain a college degree. On a day-to-day level, what this means is that affluent black families share close connections to lower class African Americans—they are parents, grandparents, cousins, or even sibilings. This simply isn’t as true of affluent white families.

In other words, the whole premise of Goldberg’s post is flat wrong. The same goes for his closing bit, where he implies that it’s hard for “rich black liberals” to have an “honest conversation” about “problems facing black America that have little to nothing to do with white racism.” Ignoring, for now, the fact that black elites spend a lot of time on so-called “black problems”—something Goldberg would know if he had any familiarity with black political life—I’m not sure how you can divorce the problems in the African American community from white racism. After all, problems like endemic poverty, poor educational outcomes, early mortality, and mass incarceration have their roots in the violence and exploitation that defined the experience of freed slaves and their descendants for nearly a century.

That’s not to say that today’s whites are somehow responsible for that, but when you’re trying to explain systemic problems, you need similarly systemic answers, and white racism was the guiding force in American life for a very long time.

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